Chihayafuru s2 ep15 ~ if I don’t accept my punishment after breaking the rules, I’ll be incurring the wrath of the gods
April 20, 2013
Chihayafuru season 2 episode 15 was an extraordinary thing. Essentially nothing happened. The entire episode must have been close to real time in the moments between the semi-final and final matches of the National High School Tournament at the Omi Jingu. A lesser show could not have pulled this off. It isn’t uncommon for a Sports anime to have a comic interlude episode between matches, or to have a build-up episode that sets the stakes, introduces new opponents, or difficulties the protagonists must hurdle. The difference, I would say is the way this felt seamlessly connected to the rest of the show, instead of being an interlude episode.
In the few moments between matches we see a number of difficulties arise. First Kanade Oe asks to be removed from the lineup because she received an injury during the semi-final round. This means Tsukuba, who doesn’t seem to be particularly reliable will take her place. Furthermore Mizusawa’s opponents in the final round are all very talented (the entire team are A-class, except for Chihaya’s opponent, who is still a bit of an enigma).
The grand tapestry
One of the incredible strengths of this series lies in the many strands of sub-plots that interweave. There are the stories of the tournaments where the different teams meet to contest titles that only one team can attain. There are longer cycles that some of the characters see, in which a particular game or even a particular tournament is merely a step on the road towards some larger future. Finally there are the various personalities and aspirations and personal dramas of the different individuals on the Mizusawa team and beyond.
As far as threads on the level of tournament stories, Hokuo Academy is a good example, although by no means alone. This is a team that had a good chance at winning the final. They carried with them the hopes and expectations of those who played on the team before. But their story doesn’t end when they lose. They aren’t merely props discarded at the end of their usefulness to Mizusawa’s story. Their thread continues to weave in and out of Chihayafuru’s tapestry.
A good example of someone who sees the larger story that extends beyond any one competition is Sakurazawa-sensei, the coach for Fujisaki, Mizusawa’s opponents in the tournament final. She is willing to remove a good player from the line-up in the final round of a tournament because she is thinking ahead to what the team will need next year. At this point she is a bit inscrutable, so all we can possibly guess is that she thinks this will be a good learning experience for Rion Yamashiro. Is she willing to risk losing a tournament final in order to strengthen the team for next year?
Obviously this show is full of individuals who have their own little dramas. One that manages to stand out for me is Retro-kun. First he is obviously a side character who is envisioned as being primarily a comedic element, but somehow he manages to go far beyond that role on occasion. In this episode he had his own issues to deal with, but he found out that Arata Wataya was at Omi Jingu, and unable to watch Mizusawa play. He leaves the room at a decisive moment to tell Arata that his friends are fighting in the final round. He may come off as awkward, ridiculous, and even a braggart, but Hiro has a sense of fairness, and basic decency that makes him a minor hero of sorts.
Other characters could easily have been pointed out here, such as Arata Wataya himself, whose decision to stay in the room and accept his punishment was an awesome way to demonstrate his character. I probably would have placed him alongside Sakurazawa-sensei, however. He isn’t sitting there cursing his fate, he is accepting it, because he has his eyes on the larger picture. As much as he wants to see his friends play today, he wants to meet them on the tatami mat tomorrow even more.
The one other character I can’t keep from commenting on, however, is Shinobu. She does not have the big picture in mind, she is very much obsessed with her personal story, and winning games against strong opponents. She is a complicating factor, however, in that she is capable of inspiring the other players (particularly Chihaya) to greatness. This makes her appearance at the team final a bridge to the individual tournament that starts the next day. My guess is that, if Chihaya notices Shinobu in the crowd, it will inspire her to play better, but more importantly, seeing Chihaya play will bring out Shinobu’s killer instinct — and that is what I want to see. Shinobu versus Chihaya is gonna be awesome!